tv After Words CSPAN June 1, 2014 9:00pm-10:01pm EDT
you really want to rand? and would be willing to give in return? it may be possible to n theve differ that has not been tried. it may or may not be possible. and it should be possible with our attempt to have peace on the basis of the war against this regime. but that thought process hasn't been entered into. that is the kind of thing that i am talking about. >> this is an extraordinarily thoughtful exploration with basic questions of the time of war and peace by a very thoughtful expert and analyst.
journalist susan stranahan. and if the environmental news writer helps members of the uniounion of the compared sciens of the nuclear power plant meltdown after the march 2011 tsunami. this program is about one hour. normally i'm the person having the questions asked of me and now i get the opportunity to ask a former journalist questions about the book that you wrote. >> guest: i will do my best. it is and on customary role for me to answer questions, but it's good to be here. >> host: i'm glad. i wanted to start to ask you a few issues that are general about the book and the first i just wondered what drove you to this topic, what made you
interested in the accident? >> guest: as a journalist it was a very compelling story. i'd covered the 3-mile island accident when i was a reporter at the philadelphia inquirer and followed nuclear issues &. the first moment when the news accounts began to come in i watched transfixed because it was the first time i think the world has only watched an accident on hold. and so i got caught up in the story. not necessarily the technical aspects of the human aspects and the very high drama of what was going on in japan and as the events began to continue to unfold, i saw a number of parallels to what had happened to 3-mile island and was curious
as to what sort of lessons had been learned and hadn't been learned in 3-mile island while there were so many similarities and differences cause of it brought me into it from that angle. >> host: maybe you can talk about it. i think he won the pulitzer prize. >> guest: i was part of a very large team that was sent to cover the accident. i did a lot of the writing. i never went out. i had been there but i didn't actually go to the scene but i was working as the person for the photographers and so to me it was a very frightening event. the accident that we believed would never have bee happen was happening. fortunately it wasn't as severe as things at fukushima but it
caught the experts offguard, too. the utility government officials, and so that was a parallel tribe. we had 30 some years to learn the lesson. it didn't appear that they sound sound. >> what was different watching the act just in the sense as a layperson to the island where you had a professional goal. >> guest: i was taking notes constantly and visually. it was, all as we write in the book that people watch the reactor building explode. we saw the helicopters flying over. use all the people being rescued from their homes and fleeing compounded with this horrific
natural disaster and i think we lose sight of the fact it would have been a headline making in and of itself. so, i didn't watch it with a certain -- with a certain arm's-length objectivity, but i kept taking a lot of notes because i had a lot of questions i wanted to find out more about and just what the reporters. >> host: talk to me a little about the cooperation between you and the other staff. >> guest: i worked with him as a source for many years, met him just once but had come to rely on the union of concerned and with a number of other organizations as the go to people when i was writing about issues. i haven't really worked that much. i was a headline in just until
the accident. in the june of 2011 i was asked by the union of concerned scientists who team up to put together a book. my idea of the book was a little bit different i think and what the folk had originally. i came out as a journalist, as a storyteller, and if the public were to become engaged in this issue as i felt they should come best way to do it was to tell it through the general audience integer, of the unfolding event. so i am not an engineer, i am not a physicist. and so i began to pull together a lot of different threats, and we put together a proposal that
was accepted, and we set about the task of writing the book and so i would draft many of the chapters and then they would read them as a lot of input in the technical issues and as the book progressed, and it gets into some of the background on the nuclear regulation in the history of the regulation in the country had and the dave added a lot more because they were influential in it but it was a good collaboration. there were fingerprints in the book definitely. it was clear that this was about
people and the drama. there were several and the difficulty nine of us speak japanese and so we did this from the u.s. so it was a lot of gathering of information from official reports and news accounts and things like that. we didn't get a chance to talk to the people at the plant, obviously. but one of the things that i -- that designated with me is the moment when they are dithering about whether or not they need to inject sea wate seawater intt number one, and it is a matter of the clock that is taking and
it just about down to the wire. the superintendent who in the end would have to make the final call does it is desperate and they need to get water in there very quickly. meanwhile, everybody wants a say. the officials and the japanese government officials are all just hemming and falling and they get an order from one of the supervisors that the government hasn't signed off on this yet. he basically says i'm going to give an order, but ignore it. so he loudly proclaimed so everybody in tokyo can hear the seawater injection when in fact they didn't. and to me, i think that was a human element in a story in which in japan where a good igng
the rules and kind of acting on your own is not rewarded. things would go even worse than they were going so he did. that one was interesting. >> he stands out as unique. >> he talked very little to the press and unfortunately died. but some of his lines of the accident were very compelling. the other characters in the book -- and there were not many, and i really liked chuck. >> host: did you have an opportunity? >> guest: we did, yes. he was very kind. he was the expert on the water reactors brought in and therefore as i recall was there
for almost a year. and he became a kind of central person by all of the forces at work. the government o government of e culture of the japanese society and the government, the urgency to get the best possible advice living in japan through the ambassador that was there and then the scramble back at your office of trying to figure out what was going on and get him the best advice and he is working by all appearances 24/mac seven fallout struggling to keep them in the air and to me he was a human face of a safety system that just wasn't ready for what it was being asked to do.
>> host: it seems they have people in the end of the become the basis of this technology that seems to be so mechanistic and it becomes very personal and human. hispanic and that's good because if there isn't a human face on the issue it's difficult for people to become invested in making sure that things are done properly. and so, i think that -- that was my goal in starting up a book the way that we did. i wanted to tell a story that people began to become engaged in and they may not know anything about nuclear power. they may not have any opinion about nuclear power. but by getting them to invest
and understand the drama. that's a good coming from you. it's kind of nice to know that. >> host: i was just curious you talked a little bit about that you relied on the newspapers on the government documents. it's talked a little bit more about what kind of sources you use and talk to people that he found differences from what people said as opposed to what was kind of in the record. >> guest: the nrc was a treasure trove. the materials that came out in the transcripts kept a transcript of the operation center. it was a historical record that
ended up being there. that made it possible. we didn't have quite the same level of information from japan although there were many good records from the investigated reports that were in english. the names of people, we are very useful and as you read through that you know that you are with the operation center because we were able to tell it that way. so i think that is one of the ways i hope to bring the story alive. we can write always wanted to about the filtered events or the seawater injection.
but until the reader understands the urgency with which the decisions have to be made. there's people scrambling against the clock to try to get something so that is how we elected you to do it. >> host: were they surprising to you or did they go the way that you thought that they would have as a situation? >> guest: the thing that surprised me the most is how little knowledge there was about what was going on. i think if the nuclear regulatory commission charged with protecting the american people. and we've never had an accident like this.
yet i got this sense and only through the materials that we had access to that it was as confused and scrambling to learn, desperate to learn what was going on. and it wasn't just a time difference and the language difference. but it was the uncertainty of the technology and of trying to define what was going on india's reactors. to the ambassador and your crew over there and to the american people. we make the point in the book this wasn't a japanese nuclear act. it was a nuclear accident that just happened to have occurred
in japan so there was a reason for americans to just follow what was going on. >> host: it was and in many ways very familiar but yet so very different because you mentioned at the end of their work languagword language diffee were time difference is and we had a team in washington that was sleeping when everyone else was awake and they were sleeping when everyone was awake here so you have to manage the difference of time and the complexity. >> guest: i'm sure that's the case, and culturally it was -- he talks about going to these meetings that lasted forever that accomplished nothing in here the americans are saying we need decisions now. we need to deal with this now, and yet as you pointed out, this is not your accident, our accident. the u.s. experts.
flat-footed and one of the messages we have in the buck as the regulators have dismissed low probability high consequence accidents because they don't fit the script command historically at the 3-mile island and in the bethesda accident dot reactors are supposed to follow a scenario, and they didn't add fukushima. you might as well throw the script out the window. so what you had here was a story of people who are charged with protecting the public health and safety. and many of whom had no higher calling than protecting the public health and safety, just come pleased by what was going on. there had been no -- there had
never been an accident of multiple reactors where all the backup systems failed. there'd never been an accident -- you could go down this checklist until you begin to wonder who was making the rules. we have a lion in the book that says the safety bar was set at x.. nobody asked what happened when you add plus one, and i think that maybe one of the messages of the book is that we need to start asking about the plus one. >> host: i did read the book and i have lots of questions. >> guest: i will do my best. >> host: it's helpful to hear your overview and how you got to where you were and you developed the material that is in here.
this is on 42 and 43 discussing earthquakes and what the japanese were giving over their history to deal with the earthquake. it is a country that deals with thesvietnam and often a regular basis. i've been to japan three times in the last two years. so it is something that is almost a regular. one of the things is this is a country that in many respects in the scientific community is viewed as being one of the premier companies when it comes to understanding earthquakes yet it is a technology they also prided themselves on and i think you mentioned this in the book they view themselves as being very expert in the nuclear technology that the two of their primary technological areas of expertise failed them. tell me a little bit about how did you reconcile that idea but here is a technologically advanced country that looking back seemed to have missed so
many opportunities to address the issues? >> guest: i think there is a similar thing. it's cost and who has the ear of those in the decision-making capacities. it's a very sophisticated country. when we write about this "-end-double-quote and there were calls for more preparation for earthquakes. and these were kind of dismissed
and were kicked down the road for the later date and the day came when they were needed. so when you have a very influential industry which the nuclear industry in japan definitely is in a very close ties to government, it's wishes usually take preference to the academics and the few scientists that are saying we are not really adequately prepared, and that was another occurring thing not only on earthquakes, but on the radiation monitoring and eve accusation-- evacuations. >> host: have things changed? >> guest: you look at the ongoing debate about the restart of the reactors and you've got public opinion polls with a huge
majority of the japanese people opposing to restart the reactors or at least, you know, some of the reactors. yet they are marching right into the restart without fully understanding would have nfc fukushima. there may be a good reason to restart the reactors but there is a legitimacy to the claims that are being made by those that are opposed to the start. we don't know enough of what happened and we need to learn the lessons and put in the regulatory framework because you have the old framework that clearly didn't work and now you've got the new one. whether that is going to change things, i don't know because you've got to pressure from the government to get those reactors up and running.
>> host: you have an interesting quote in the theme if i can find it. i minister i believe is eventually talking about the protesters and essentially dismissing them. >> guest: they are making noise again. and again, you way out everything in what is the customary responses in japan come and protesting in the street is not as -- it may be in the united states. >> host: if you can talk about other little that's more because you have some pictures in the book and you talk about the protesters and the tens of thousands, 45,000, that is a huge issue in japan. that is not a typical day. >> guest: when you look at the protests come and they are not students, they are grandmothers
and the typical people that get out to protest. there are a wide swath of the japanese public by the outward appearances if you look at the photographs and so this is an issue fukushima touched a huge segment of japan and economically, my gosh, it is an enormous consequence. so you now have a lot of people that are at stake. personal, economic and health that you're saying this isn't what we want and there doesn't seem to be the voices that are getting heard. >> host: why do you think that is? >> guest: because as i say, the nuclear issue as the
decision over the decisio decisr and they do not wield the same clout as the grandmother with the protest signs. i think that is very true in the united states as well that the nuclear industry in this country has been very, very successful in influencing the level of the nuclear regulation. there have been some changes, but they are not necessarily adequate in terms of, for example, looking at fukushima. you have the 50-mile evacuation issue. they have said we would have plenty of time.
i think somebody that is living on long island or the hudson river for example or near the pilgrim plant is going to say you're going to get me off cape cod if there's an accident or you're going to be able to evacuate 50 miles from the point expeditiously moving that many people. 40% of the americans live within 50 miles of the nuclear plant. the 120 million americans. you ask why the changed event occurred, the better question would be why is the change also not occurring in the united
states. i think that it is the influence of the nuclear industry. i think it's cost into the industry has a turkic ability to get ahead of the nrc on the issues and to say we will do this or that or you don't need to do this we will do this. so you've got the responses to the safety issues that are not set up by the regulation. they are voluntary. we have a line in the buck in that the traffic department don't put up a sign that says don't go too fast.
i don't do things that aren't safe. at least in the lessons that come up so far it is a sense of what the industry needs to do. and the nuclear task force, the group of the senior officials that took 90 days to make recommendations. we need to get rid of the patchwork of the regulations. they allow this mix of the voluntary noncompliance, some compliance mishmash of the
regulations. what the task force says is what's restructure from the ground up. for the speed limit for the reactors but 55-mile per hour speed limit reactor. to learn what we can but to make sure that we can say clearly that these reactors are as safe as we can make them plus one. that is the message that we wanted to convey.
>> host: you are a reporter and tal talking about a talk ine bit about these you get the japanese press that are not investigating or asking enough questions -- >> guest: i do. i have talked to some u.s. correspondence for the publications were in japan. i just wanted to talk and get some of their insights. so talking to them and asking them about how this works, it comes across as a don't ask
don't tell. but that is part again of the japanese culture investigative reporting wasn't until recently accorded a high trigger ready. and in japan unlike the united states. and so there wasn't a whole that is incentive for the japanese media. they might lose access. but i don't know enough about the pressure that they were under to completely condemn them. it is an experience that i have not gone through, but i do feel that is changing and they see what the price in japan has paid
for accepting the party lines. when the reporters talk to you and they ask you about this, do you say to them you need to be more aggressive? how do you respond if you ask them how they should be doing their jobs. >> host: they are seeking opportunities to get a different perspective and hear something different and they may be hearing from the traditional source. >> guest: we have a line from one of the nuclear advocates in
japan who said that the best way not to get your story covered was to take it to the press for the government agency to cover nuclear and that was a guarantee that it never got mentioned so it was a different culture in terms of journalism. would the u.s. have done better? 3-mile island was a great example. there were reporters in middletown pennsylvania who were covered in the state government. what did they know about nuclear reactors and radiation? what did they know about the makeup of the pressurized water reactor cracks me don't know that they are good about sniffing out the disparity and
the misrepresentation of the covered up ancover up and if soe reporting skills come into play because they say i don't care if we are talking about skimming money out of a political fund or an accident that is unfolding on 3-mile island. we sense there is something going on and we are not getting the storie story so from that standpoint, it is every reporter's instincts to start poking around. >> host: in that way of thinking about how this story was covered in a way that no other has been covered there were these visuals people could watch on tv as you talked about earlier. one of the most significant units one and unit three talk if you want about how those issues played out and what kind of impact they have on the recovery efforts. >> guest: i think as i said
this is the first time the world ever watched a nuclear accident and they ran again and again and again and you had the cameras from the distance photographing the explosions and so people saw in reality with the nuclear accident was like. before the discussions when there were discussions in the general public they were hypothetical where they were at the china syndrome. they were just, you know, there was no understanding in the public mind was a nuclear accident involved. and so, on everybody's television screen again and again and again they use the word explosion and you have to admit they are pretty compelling individuals and so, all of a
sudden now the public says holy smoke what about that reactor over there on the river as that could be my backyard. so the visuals worked to raise public awareness. they may not have understood what was going on or why there was the explosion but the reactor building with the roof blown off and the repeated broadcast of those and the photographs from around the plant. >> host: you go through in the book and pretty good detail what was happening on the ground to read what kind of impact do you think those have for the japanese who were trying --
>> guest: i can't imagine what the working conditions -- you ask if there were characters that stuck with me. i don't know a name, but those workers they didn't know if their families were alive or dead or if their communities has been washed away. they stayed in that plant. they worked and it was dark. they didn't know if they were going to get hit with another earthquake. there were power lines down. they had no clue of what was going on, and they were incredible and they did every single thing they could. and then there's the explosion all of their work is for mott and they have to start all over again. i just can't imagine what -- and
you recall the time they are abandoning the plant. and as they left it would have been more than catastrophic. so you have a human interface with machinery. did they wrestle it to the ground? no, they tried. >> host: there's a dichotomy where the world is watching all these things happen, the explosions, the ability to bring the reactors under control and it portrayed a very different picture than what was actually happening on the ground which was as you said this effort by people working in tremendously difficult positions to try to save the plant, to try to save the people, to try to present these releases but things were
just in many ways be not control. >> host: . >> guest: like dominoes falling. you raised an excellent point that i haven't seen. it's something we ought to keep in mind that of the nuclear accidents that we have experienced, there is really no commonality and the likelihood of a severe accident is so low that we don't need to plan for it and that there is still this belief that the best way to present debate could prevent another accident is to fight the last war, to say chernobyl wasn't particularly involved that we will make some fixes and we don't have to worry, because
nothing is going to happen but we cannot plan for and about likelihood of the beyond the basis accident, i picked up some of this, it is something we don't need to stand for. i don't think if you ask the japanese people today whether that is an acceptable attitude to take with upwards of $250 billion in economic consequences and say yes it is. you need to plan for the unexpected that is the message that has to resignation the country. they talk about the mindset
prevails in the nuclear industry and the nuclear regulatory. and that is the accident is so unlikely we don't need to plan for it. i would argue, and i think that we make the point in the book that mindset hasn't changed. we talked to peter bradford the former commissioner who was on the commission after and was a pretty outspoken critic for safety and he talked about what is needed is regulatory skepticism. i am not sure that that exists today but i think that is what we need. >> host: it's one of the challenges and i think you talk about different people in the role they play. one of the challenges is to try to figure out where those issues can best be addressed whether it is -- because obviously most of the things they did during the
act were driven by the staff and you have a very interesting assessment and a book about the work that was done in the 80s and dealing with the events and the boiling water reactor plants in the state. and as they played back in fukushima because the efforts to address that issue in the 80s alternately were not successful because we solve the problems that we saw in fukushima yet it was driven by the staff at the nrc and decades later a task force was created that came to almost very similar conclusions. so, there is an effort that i think as you said there are people at the agency that are there with no other mission than to protect the public health and safety but somehow the collective isn't working and in the end the agency isn't driving on the way to -- >> guest: i agree.
i've been asked several times since the book has come out and i've been talking to people and the common question that is asked is what can we do, what can we do to change the dynamic come and i don't know the answer to that. is it changing the makeup of the commission? i don't know that that's going to happen. it certainly -- there is no sign that is going to happen. is it putting pressure on congress? i don't know. there are good voices in congress saying we don't need to go down this road again. is it putting pressure on local and state officials who are ultimately responsible for getting out of harm's way when things happen, and could they say no, we are not going to play this game anymore. and i'm not sure where the leverage points are. but, you hope that their voices
are going to be heard. >> host: one of those issues that does play out and touch people is something you touched on which was that you value evacuation. and one in the story was the u.s. government's decision to recommend to the americans that they stay 50 miles away. the talk of little bit about what you found when you looked into that issue how that compared with what the japanese were saying. >> guest: the japanese were very slow to move the zone outward. and like the u.s., the evacuation is a circle that takes no consideration into the weather conditions, wind, velocity and direction, and so the belief is that no accident
is going to necessitate more than a 10-mile zone. and it's a commission said that's what we are going to stick with. we think that is good. fukushima revolves tha an mac. than that. so whethe window for the most pf the early days throughout to see. so the half circle worked, but as quickly as it shifted and began to blow to the northwest, those people were sitting that they were sitting ducks into the radiation levels were very high and very belatedly work these people moved. i know you took some heat for that evaluation. it was a wise move and a good call and i don't think there were that many americans around the plant. but then we come back to the issue if it's good for the japanese why isn't it good for the americans and why shouldn't
there be the ability to plan for if not 50 miles, 25 miles? get the planning in place so that if need be, you can move -- moving people is typically difficult. we have a reference to the hospital late in the accident and that they left behind a whole bunch of people. many of them were elderly and they died. and that's -- i am not sure that the u.s. planning is any different, but you wouldn't leave some nursing home people owere prisoners or schoolkids or old age homes. >> host: i think that then you see the importance of planning and none of these -- and they are accidents and crisis because things are not happening that you planned for. the planning does make a difference and there was a line in here where i may have taken an exception you talk about some of the exercises that are dying
in the illusion of the evacuation. but there is ultimately a limitation. >> guest: it is end to the compounding factor here. the persistent view that nuclear power -- the nuclear industry doesn't want to frighten people. and if you go through these exercises and you move, you know, you move people out and have this slight overall the planning is, people are going to think wait a minute. i'm getting my electricity from something that requires an evacuation plan and that is to get me out of my house when -- think of the poor japanese people. they would never be able to give back to their house. part of the motivation -- it's also like at fukushima they could have built a higher wall to protect from dust to nominees
that people were predicting like this. but the fear was that it would d create the public might get scared if they had a huge wall in front of a nuclear plant. and i think it is the same thing now with the emergency planning. people don't want to think about they might have to leave their farm animals behind and their pets and they may never get back. >> host: you touched about this again on the human stories in the book that of the people, about how many people were evacuated? >> guest: i think there were 106 d. thousand people. i know that there are some that are back, but not all. and they have created these zones people may never be able to get back and kind of rubbed
salt in the wounds in the nuclear waste in the communities because they are abandoned. >> host: these cleanup activities will go on for a long time and there is no easy answer and a simple -- >> guest: know, the japanese are like the united states. they don't have the place to put this stuff and what are they going to do with all this? >> host: unlike the united states that are a much smaller countries which makes a very big difference. one of the -- a couple of notes -- there's a big discussion and debate about the worst-case scenario and you talk about some of the challenges of the agency and this is all activity going
on in the united states. and trying to figure out what is the implication of this accident. walk me through what you found coming and what you saw and i would be interested in your personal thoughts. again, is this how you thought the government would work? do you think it was successful and a demonstration of good governance -- >> guest: you're talking about the u.s. response to fukushima; is that -- >> host: yes commanded the efforts to develop models for what the impact would be coming in and out of focus on the so-called source term. >> guest: we are getting perilously close to add wine and's execution on this. but i found the interagency debate from what little we know about them the nrc released a lot of information that we don't know what was going on in the white housecome and it is my understanding from the information that we've gotten is
and flooded by the natural disaster and it was like we never thought this would happen. cq have the best and brightest of the government saying now what do we do. there is more to it than that but i do think it was offputting to me that there was a push back historically but we don't need to plan for the worst-case scenario and you have a lot of computer modeling and all of these probability risk assessments and all of these estimations of what would happen that were consistently, consistently pushed down, watered down. we are going to factor in some of these things that the list keeps getting smaller and smaller and smaller.
so the computer modeling aside, here you have a real-life accident unfolding and the computer models to my knowledge aren't really providing you that much reliable information from a good information. and i gather that there was a fair level of disagreement among the decision-makers as to what the best course of action was. fortunately, it doesn't appear that the west coast was at risk but it could have been. and you know, if that was the case there probably was a worst-case scenario. >> host: having gone through a lot of other challenges were not necessarily with the model but it was the lack thereof and the models are built around knowing sort of where you start. it's almost like playing a game of monopoly. everyone put their pieces randomly around the board. that was the failing and the weakness in that situation because people just really didn't know what was coming out.
>> guest: that's because you didn't have the basic information from japan. they came in in midstream. is that what it was or that the japanese just didn't have the information or they were not sharing the information? >> host: it was just primarily that there wasn't the right information because as you talk about in the buck, you lost power and you lose power to all of the reactors and you primarily lose all of your instrumentation and all of the things that tell you what the temperature of the reactor is. what do we assume is really going on. we can measure and a large difference how much radiation is coming out, but again it goes back to the assumptions that you talked about. everything is built around the assumption that we know what is going on in the reactor because we have extensive programs to
require that licensees to tell us the conditions of the reactors, when they are undergoing the abnormal time period. but again, all of that was lost. >> guest: how forthcoming were the japanese? >> host: i get asked that question a lot and i think that if they were pretty forthcoming with us giving all of the circumstances. >> guest: meaning us or the nrc? >> host: us recognizing they were a sovereign country and this was an accident as you told me into the get wasn't our accident, it wasn't their accident, it was ultimately theirs to deal with first and foremost, and i think in the end of the question is how forthcoming were they with their own government and their own people and that is the question. i wasn't there so i can't tell you. ..